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Crews Describe 'Apocalyptic' Scenes in Afghan Departure

'It looked like one of those zombie movies where all the airplanes had been destroyed'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 2, 2021 4:18 AM CDT
Crews Describe 'Apocalyptic' Scenes in Afghan Departure
In this image made through a night vision scope and provided by the US Army, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the US Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepares to board a C-17 cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021,   (Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett/U.S. Army via AP)

(Newser) – It looked like a zombie apocalypse. For the US military pilots and aircrew about to make their final takeoffs out of Afghanistan, the sky was lit up with fireworks and sporadic gunfire and the airfield littered with battered shells of airplanes and destroyed equipment. Stray dogs raced around the tarmac. And Taliban fighters, visible in the darkness through the green-tinged view of night vision goggles, walked the airfield waving an eerie goodbye. Lined up on the runway at the Kabul airport Monday night were the five last C-17s to leave the country after a chaotic and deadly airlift evacuation that marked the end of America's involvement in the Afghanistan war. In the final hours, there were no more rocket defense systems to protect them on the runway, and no one in the airport control center to direct them out.

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  • "It just looked apocalyptic,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Braden Coleman, who was in charge of monitoring the outside of his aircraft for artillery fire and other threats, tells the AP. "It looked like one of those zombie movies where all the airplanes had been destroyed, their doors were open, the wheels were broken. There was a plane that was burned all the way. You could see the cockpit was there, and the whole rest of the plane looked like the skeleton of a fish."
  • “It was just definitely very tense, and we were definitely all on edge watching everything going on to make sure that we were ready,” said Air Force Capt. Kirby Wedan, pilot of MOOSE81, who led the final formation of five aircraft out. Adding to the stress, she said, was that their planes were parked in an area of the airport that had been attacked and breached in the past.
  • Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the US Army 82nd Airborne Division, was the last soldier to walk up the ramp on the final C-17 to depart. He had been in charge of security for the evacuation mission. Soon after the aircraft were in the air, he sent a message: “Job well done. Proud of you all.”
(Read more Afghanistan war stories.)

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